Soccer is the number one sport in the world but here in America, 50 years ago soccer was nothing more than another game kids would play at, recess. Even from the time I started playing till now soccer has taken huge leaps gaining more and more US fans and players. In 1996, a professional soccer league began in the US in which it’s still called Major League Soccer (MLS.) The league started with only ten teams. Today, it has over twenty teams and is still growing. The MLS in 1996 consisted of college standouts, European as well as South and Central American players who couldn’t make a career in the European leagues. Now times have changed. In 2007 David Beckham, the former England national team captain and Manchester United superstar, signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy. His contract was for $6.5 million a year and a percentage of the Galaxy’s revenue a total of $50 million over five years. Forbes estimated that Beckham earned $255 million during his six years in the MLS, including endorsements.
Since Beckham came to the MLS the league has added seven more teams. Beckham has been a model for more European standout players to make the move to the US, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard (37), Barcelona’s David Villa (33), Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard (35), Juventus’s Andrea Pirlo (36), A.C. Milan’s Kaká (33), Chelsea’s Didier Drogba (37) and QPR’s Shaun Wright-Phillips (33). This migration has led some critics to argue that the MLS is becoming a league for European players past their prime to play soccer with very low stakes and a very high payout before retiring. Sports writer Gavin Cleaver talks about the European superstar in his Atlantic article arguing, “…that players earning in a year what these superstars make in a week will be passing them the ball, tidying up the play behind them, and doing the running their aging legs can’t.” But while many criticize the MLS and disagree with the league for allowing all these players to come over and play, they have created more European fans for the MLS. More and more Americans are going to want to go to an MLS game to watch one of their favorite players play. That means more kids will be inspired to play the game of soccer which leads to more people playing in the US which makes soccer more competitive and a very positive impact for American Soccer.
In 2015 over 14 million people in the US played the game of soccer. The US Youth Soccer organization has grown 300% over the past forty years. The MLS has an average per-game attendance of 21,023 fans, which is 40% higher over the past ten years. In 2014 an ESPN poll reported that professional soccer ranked number 2nd in the most popular sport after pro football among 12-17 year olds. The same poll also reported that the MLS was as popular as the MLB among the same age group. During, the Fox Network’s broadcast of The Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus it had 2.2 million viewers in the US and last season’s NBC broadcast of the English Premier League games averaged 425,000 viewers. An exhibition game between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Michigan Stadium drew 109,318 fans, which was the largest ever for a live soccer match in the US. The US, 5-2 victory over Japan in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final became the most-watched soccer game in American history with 26.7 million viewers.
The Women’s U.S. National team celebrate after winning the 2015 World Cup
Even before that game ratings for the 2015 Women’s World Cup were up 45% from the previous series in 2011. While the Fox network estimated about $17 million in ad revenue from the 2015 series, each victory for the U.S. team during the series drove increased viewership and advertiser demand. In total, Fox earned more than $40 million in ad revenue for the series, compared to the $6 million that ESPN made during the last Women’s World Cup in 2011.
As you can see soccer in the US is making huge strides to become one of the most popular sports in America. I believe with the ability of the MLS bringing in huge stars to this country makes soccer extremely relevant. With all the attention it brings to the MLS it creates a chain reaction all the way down to youth soccer league players dreaming big to one-day play with their favorite role models like Beckham or Lampard someday. Now that MLS players can support a family with the money they receive for playing makes becoming an MLS player that much more appealing to Americans. Soccer is coming for you America.